The Lookout

Tens of thousands in Oregon set to lose jobless benefits

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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In yet another grim example of how the economic slump is playing out across America, tens of thousands of Oregonians are expected to lose their unemployment benefits in the coming months, reports The Oregonian newspaper. And the state's safety net isn't set up to cope.

Oregon's unemployment rate is 10.5 percent -- even higher than the robust national rate of 9.8 percent. In January, about 4,000 Oregonians per week will lose their unemployment benefits, as things stand. And in April, that number is expected to spike to 35,000 per week.

The agreement in Washington to extend unemployment benefits as part of a tax cut deal won't help much, even if it does pass Congress. It would cut the number of Oregonians losing benefits in April by around 14,000, but wouldn't do anything for the many so-called 99ers -- those who have exhausted their maximum 99 weeks of eligibility.

Democratic Gov.-elect John Kitzhaber could address the plight of the state's long-term jobless population by asking the Legislature to extend state-level benefits, something his office has said he's considering.

Nearly 20 percent of Oregonians are on food stamps, and that number is likely to rise further as more people begin to lose their jobless benefits.

Social service agencies say they don't have the resources to handle a coming spike in demand. "I had heard there'd be an increase, but I had no idea it was going to be that much," the director of a utilities-assistance program told the paper. "I don't know where we're going to get more money to handle that, unless some huge donations come in."

(Photo: AP/Mark Lennihan)

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